In response to my post “Don’t Go To Church?” I received one comment from a good friend via e-mail. He is a great guy, with a great Jesus-like heart for people, and a humble heart like not many I have seen. I am glad to call him my friend. We have very different backgrounds in our respective relationships with God, but the common bond is greater than the differences. I guess I think that’s the greatness of the church. The church is not defined by a set of agreed upon customs and traditions. It’s a group of people from “every tongue and tribe and nation” who are commonly united by the Creator who became one of us so we could become children – and friends – of God. (John 1, Romans 5.)
I responded to his email and thought it might be interesting reading for you as well… it’s rather lengthy, but as a friend of ours says, I thought you might like to read over my shoulder…
(My friend’s email is in the quoted sections. I did replace some specific details with more general stuff.)
I’m not surprised at all about your reasons for not going to church. I understand them based on what I’ve read, but I’ll offer some other things to think about since you asked for comments.
You used the word “show” a few times in your answer. It’s an interesting choice of words because in 30 years of going to Mass I have never once thought of it as a show. I asked my wife and she said the same. It could just be our perspective so I’ll have to check with other family and friends.
Yet, I know I’ve always had the “show” feeling in regard to any service I’ve witnessed at [the various churches/etc you’ve attended]. Obviously these are very different experiences than my norm and I’m not saying it wasn’t great and that I didn’t come away with something. (I have some of [those] sermons engrained in my memory). So I asked myself what the difference was.
Before you give your answer, let me say this… the “show” is actually even more of a show in some ways in more traditional services (Catholic, Episcopal, Orthodox, etc) because of all the formality and ceremony. BUT, the biggest difference (and perhaps the reason you have never considered it a “show”) is the audience. Having worked behind the scenes on many Christian “shows”, I know that at your typical “evangelical” (don’t let [them] know I called them “evangelical”….) 😉 church “show”, the aim is to include – as much as possible – the people who do not know Jesus. So, in effect – intentionally, yet unintentionally – the audience becomes the “seekers”, rather than God, as the “entertainers” presume that it is. Did that make sense? Everyone I know who leads a “show” says that the audience is God, and they mean it, but from knowing the preparation, and what is actually going on, I would say that the audience is indeed the people in the seats, specifically those who are not “believers” (which means varying things to varying churches, but generally there is a consensus among the “show” leaders).
What was missing for me was the holiness, the “sanctity”, of the event…let’s call it. It didn’t feel any different than any other discussion or hanging out I did with the members of [that church]. Yes, I felt close to God when singing or praying to Him during the service, but again, I felt the same when singing or praying to Him on my own at home or with friends. It sounds like this might have been your experience as well. That would certainly make it easier to walk away from the church.
Quick clarification… I(we) did not “walk away from the church”. We are still very much part of the church, and have regular “fellowship” with the church. We share life and we teach and are taught by the church. The problem is… the definitions of church can be different. To us the church is not an organization that stands on its own, it is the people who belong to Jesus. It’s the corporate one-ness – the family – of everyone who follow Jesus. It has local manifestations in groups of two, three, fifteen or fifty – or even 5000 (though that becomes less “local”) … but it does not exist without the people who are the church. In a sense, the organizations/institutions that we call “churches” (with their staff and buildings and services) could exist without any people “attending”. (Obviously not for long, as they are funded by the attendees, but… they could.) The church I am talking about does not have such defining boundaries. (Which is why, I think, Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell (hades) will not prevail against it.” Hard to defeat something so amorphous.)
Our celebration of Mass is so much more than entertainment-worship. It is a sacrifice, a communion with our Father, atonement for sins, and rededication of our beliefs. Think of that last one for a second. Would church be any more meaningful to you and your family if you, in unison, with the rest of the body of Christ (the church) professed those beliefs every time you went to church? Yes, I’m talking about rote memorization of prayers and professions of faith. They strengthen and edify the group as a whole. Everyone benefits. And it hasn’t hindered my ability to pray out loud “freestyle” or communicate with God one on one. It’s just another tool in my “toolbox” regarding my relationship with God.
I really don’t believe that personally this is something that I connect with, but actually I loved the insight into it that you provided. It does sound more meaningful as you describe it here. For some reason, I am not wired that way. Not just in my relationship with God… I don’t like any sort of ceremony or ritual. We wrote our own wedding vows… and I almost didn’t even want to have a wedding (and we did have a rather “strange” one…) For some reason to me that all feels fake. For me. Not for anyone else.
The group dynamic is an interesting one. I guess I have found that for me, a more strengthening group dynamic involves interaction with that group. I do beleive that Mass is more interactive in some ways than a “seeker” oriented service, but still, the “group” dynamic is not… interactive. Just everyone is doing/saying the same thing. (There is that “peace be with you, and also with you” thing…) 🙂
I agree there is something to be said for finding God anywhere. I’m so thankful that I feel Him walking/communicating with me outside of church as well.
“…Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Deuteronomy 6:7
Still, there is value in going someplace specifically set aside for worshiping God. Here’s an example…
When Jesus saw moneychangers in the temple. He didn’t say “hey guys, its only a building, we can worship anywhere, lets go down the street to the community center.” No, He chased them out. Scripture says, “His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house has consumed me.'” He had a passion for the Temple. He called it “my Father’s House”.
There’s a whole lot I could bring to that argument, but I think it’s safe to say that Jesus was not defending the place… but the people (that seemed to be his track record.) And, if indeed it was the place, when he died on the cross and the temple curtain that hid God from the people was torn in two – from the top to the bottom – that pretty symbolically ended the “place” to worship God. Jesus had said earlier in John 4 that “a day is coming when people with neither worship here nor jerusalem” and continued to talk about worshipping in spirit and truth. (Not quite sure what that cryptic language means, but context seems to point to the fact that Jesus was doing away with religion, and the separation between God and man.)
I know of course that Church is more than just a building, but wow, there are just so many distractions to our time, space, and energy these days, it’s refreshing to have a peaceful place to sit quietly among other Christians and reflect, pray, worship, and the like. If left to your own devices, is it possible to hack out enough quality time for yourselves and more importantly your children in regard to eaching/communicating/worshiping?…I know how our house is with two, never mind having four children. Yes, I understand the value of teaching and talking about Christ “on the fly” so to speak. Is that enough for them? What about some structured time? Do you put together a lesson for them every week like they would get if they were in Bible school? I’m a big proponent of balance in most aspects of life, and to me, only doing it one way doesn’t fit my “balance” quota.
While I do agree that there are many distractions, I think in life we have tried to eliminate those. We are not always running to the next thing. Sure there are days, but we have really tried to make our family, and friends, the priority in our life. So no, it doesn’t feel too hectic.
And no, I don’t prepare a lesson plan – maybe Jen does on occasion, for what we call “table time” as home schoolers – but do you really think a weekly lesson is helpful enough? (Not calling you out as much as that sounded…) What we are trying to live is a real life of following Jesus. That means almost everything we talk about includes God in the picture. That means when we see something that reminds us of a story we have read/heard … we tell our kids the story. “Hey kids, that’s like when God said….” I do read the Bible in the mornings with my boys generally, but that is such a small part of the bigger picture of the everyday, real relationship with God picture that they are getting from the rest of life.
So no, I do not believe that they are missing out in anyway. In fact, I’d say it’s more balanced, as it is infused throughout their entire day/week/life, rather than compartmentalized to a weekly time and place.
How do you reconcile the tithing/giving without belonging to a church? I know, the opportunities to help others DO present themselves to you outside the church, but what about those brothers and sisters at the church that need your help? What about your responsibility to take care of “my Father’s House.”
Again… I am of the opinion that God does not reside in a “house built by men” any more (not sure if he ever really did, but he did pretend to for a while…) 🙂 But as for the brothers and sisters that need help, I go back to what I said earlier. We in no way left or pulled out of the “church”. We do not attend weekend services, but we maintain relationships with people around us – and far away from us – who are members (with us) of the church. And actually, many of them attend various different (institutional) churches. Of all different stripes.
So, from all of those relationships, when there is a need and we can help, we do. 🙂 And, you are correct, the opportunities always do present themselves 🙂 (I like to think that is Jesus “building” his church…) 🙂
Finally, ask yourself if the idea of going to church as a show has an impact on why you left. What is it about the show that wasn’t working for you? I find it very interesting that [three of my friends] have left the church to “go it alone”. I’m not at all surprised based on some of the things I’ve read of your disillusionment and the church in the past, but it’s interesting that 3 members of [the same church] that I grew up with came to the same places in their lives. There has to be some coincidence in that. Please note, it doesn’t make me think any less of you as humans or Christians or friends. It’s just interesting.
It is interesting… but it’s not just one “church”. It’s everywhere. I do believe that we have met many people in many denominations, in many types of churches, who are wondering the same things. Who are discovering the same things. A relationship with the real and living God can not be contained in a worship service, or a building, or to certain times and places. And real community with the church (the people, not the institution) happens through sharing life and interacting more than it does attending a service where you sit in rows facing forward. (Isn’t the best time “at church” always before, in between, or after services?)
It does make me want to invite you all to Catholic church however!
That was my favorite line of the whole e-mail. 🙂
Honestly, we are not missing anything. In fact, relationship with God – and even with other believers – is better than ever. There are some awkward moments as the majority of believers still attend weekend worship services, and we do not – and different can be awkward… but on the whole, we are experiencing a more full, everyday reality of life lived with God than we ever have. I believe the same is true for our friends you mentioned, but you should ask them as of course, I can not speak for them.
[insert typical e-mail sign offs here…] 🙂